January 27, 2012 4:04:00 PM
Students and faculty were evacuated from Columbus High School this afternoon following a bomb threat, but as of 3:30 p.m., police and bomb-sniffing dogs had found no device on campus.
Capt. Fred Shelton of the Columbus Police Department said a call was placed to 911 at 1:17 p.m. stating there was a bomb inside the high school. He did not state whether the caller is believed to be a juvenile or the location from which the call originated.
School was dismissed early, and students were allowed to ride the bus home or be picked up by parents, said Janet Lewis, public information officer for the Columbus Municipal School District.
The Columbus Police Department, Lowndes County Sheriff's Office and Columbus Fire Department responded.
Bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in from Columbus Air Force Base, and Shelton said they were also awaiting a canine unit from Mississippi Highway Patrol.
New Hope High School was evacuated due to a bomb threat two weeks ago, and a toolbox with an attached note was discovered on the premises, but no bomb was found.
In September, Lowndes County sheriff's deputies, in conjunction with U.S. Marshals, arrested three juveniles in connection with bomb threats against New Hope High School and Columbus Middle School. Two of the juveniles were 15, and one was 14, Chief Deputy Greg Wright said.
Shelton said even if today's threat is ruled a prank, the caller could still face legal ramifications. Calling in a bomb threat is a felony -- even if there is no bomb, he said.
According to Wright, the penalty for false reporting of placing explosives carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections and a $10,000 fine.
Firefighters from the Columbus Fire Department stood in the parking lot and waited for the all-clear to be given. Martin Andrews, a battalion chief for the department, said prank calls take up time when officials could be protecting the city.
"Nine hundred ninety-nine times, they're howling wolf, but we always treat the worst case scenario," Andrews said.
Carmen K. Sisson is news editor at The Dispatch.
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